Sudhakar Ram, Author of The Connected Age and the managing director and Group CEO of Mastek, talks about how he wants his book to be a manual for personal change
“Every one of us has the ability and resources to make our planet a much better place – not only for ourselves, our families and our communities but for all life on Earth. Yet we live in an era of environmental degradation, political uncertainty, and economic fluctuations – a world where almost all of us feel powerless and ill-equipped to actually make things better,” says Sudhakar Ram in his book ‘The Connected Age’. In this book, which is based on his blog, ‘The New Constructs’, Ram, the managing director and Group CEO of Mastek, an IT company, examines how our Industrial Age mindset has led to the current state of the world where individuals and institutions are focussing on material success and operate as independent entities not interacting with each other. ‘The Connected Age’ is all about getting in touch with the real “us” and being committed to life-long learning and development.
In this interview, he talks to Poornima Kavlekar about his journey as an author and how he wants his book to be a guidebook for personal change.
(As narrated by Ram)
Inspiration to write The Connected Age
I started my blog in 2009 just when the Lehman Brothers debacle happened. On one end, it was almost as if the financial system across the globe was coming apart, while on the other end, there was a lot being said about ecology and the way we were treating the Earth. And, of course, the social and political systems were breaking down. And we seemed to be continuing with business as usual assuming that it will all magically disappear. This is because some assumptions are almost ingrained in us, as we are all born and brought up in the industrial age and hence, we take certain things for granted. It is time to re-inspect those. This is the reason why my blog is called The New Constructs.
In my blog, I ask many questions, mostly at an individual level, like: Can I reinvent some of these constructs relating to what success means? Is education really what we get in schools and colleges today or do we need a different kind of education in the 21st century? Almost everything we consume is like poison and we continue consuming it.
And structurally, the entire credibility of corporations has come down quite a bit especially in the U.S. And there has been a spillover effect into other parts of the world. Markets are no longer a level playing field, nowhere near what Adam Smith had envisaged. Hence, I decided to identify new ideas and new ways of living. Over the last four years, I have looked for people who have lived a different kind of life, those who have written about it and I’ve also taken some notes from my own experiences. All this information has finally come together in this book. While I have been blogging on different aspects, the book was an effort to consolidate everything and create a coherent framework. This is my state of learning at this point of time and obviously this will evolve over a period of time. And this is my vision for the world of the 21st century.
Not a job, but priorities.
We cannot have a Western view towards our corporate culture. We need to have our own way of generating jobs. It’s not a job; it’s providing opportunities to people. India has the advantage of having the maximum number of entrepreneurs in the world. The U.S. does not have this kind of size and scale. We have a base of entrepreneurship. We just need to channelise it and provide them with opportunities to grow.
Best review and worst review for your book
Best review was by Peter Singhe, he is the original thinker in this area of systems thinking. He was gracious enough to write the foreword for my book and give some reviews and comments on it. The worst review comment was from Jaithirth (Jerry) Rao, a Banker cum entrepreneur. He liked what I said, but he did not share my optimism.
Writers who have inspired you
The core is Mahatma Gandhi. As you read his work, you realise that he was way ahead of his time. Everything was fundamentally reflected upon and the soundness of it is phenomenal. At a personal transformation level, it was Stephen Covey and Benjamin Zander, who conducts Boston’s philharmonic (semi-professional orchestra). He has written a book called ‘Art of Possibility’, which is a source book for me. At the corporate level, there was a corporate planner from Shell, Arie De Geus who wrote a book called ‘Living Company’. It talks about how to re-conceptualise organisations without treating it like economic entities but like rivers which are on flow forever. Companies are able to live for 300 to 400 years, but today we have brought down their lives for 30 to 40 years, due to pure acts of greed.
The biggest advantage I have had in Mastek is that we have never followed a conventional model and taken the road less travelled. So I could experiment with many ideas and learn a lot from leading Mastek. Currently, we are in the process of taking up the principles of ‘The Connected Age’ and applying it to Mastek. It is a great way to try out ideas and check its validity. The main thing about ‘The Connected Age’ is individual empowerment. Many organisations talk about empowerment, but it is very difficult to have empowerment in a highly command oriented, controlled and hierarchical structure. You need to free up the structure, make it de-layered with almost no command or control as everything comes from the bottom. So, we are transforming Mastek based on this principle. The goals and KRAs are not set from the top and cascaded down. People at every level set their own goals. There is no performance appraisal. Essentially, we treat everyone as an ‘A’ performer. We move all accountability to teams; obviously, at an individual level we may assess someone as an A+ if they have really stretched. The idea is not what you have delivered but whether you have stretched beyond your comfort zone and whether you are trying to achieve your true potential.
What next for Sudhakar Ram, the author?
The changes we are making in Mastek may lend itself to a book, which could be about ‘The Connected Age’ corporations. In this book, the focus was mainly on individuals and institutions which got limited space. I want to make my second book more about organisations.
Also, what I would really like to do (where I also need to do more research) is to write about new forms of government for the 21st century. But, that may take me more time and I cannot do it along with my day job.
KEY ASPECTS ABOUT THE BOOK
Regaining our personal power. We seem to have given away our power to institutions, families, governments, corporations and so on. As an individual we feel helpless and powerless. The whole idea is that we have never lost power. We need to step up and take responsibility of our own lives. So one important part of the book is how do you regain your personal power and be more engaged with situations around you, community, family, organisations.
We are caught up with what other people think is success and follow traditional careers. As a result, most of us are not very happy with what we do. So can we move away from a job or a career to something where you are really pursuing your true talents and living up your full potential? In the UK, almost half the people who used to be in the work force are freelancers. So the 21st century is going to be different. It’s about building your talent where you can collaborate freely across the globe with different teams on specific projects.
A corporation is viewed as something, which is typically greedy and not very socially conscious. Can we get more institutions with the soul?
Re-inspecting the current way of governing ourselves. In many ways, what Gandhiji talked about as village being the unit of power makes far more sense today.